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City sues Feds to save Laguna Honda Hospital

City Attorney David Chiu attends and speaks at a press conference in San Francisco City Hall of on Thursday, August 4, 2022 in San Francisco, Calif. The conference was held to announce the lawsuits over Laguna Honda Hospital’s threatened closure. | Camille Cohen/The Standard | Source: Camille Cohen/The Standard

City Attorney David Chiu announced Thursday that his office was suing the federal government to halt efforts to close Laguna Honda Hospital next month.

The hospital, which provides care for some of San Francisco’s most vulnerable residents, was forced to begin transferring patients to other facilities soon after the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services ended Laguna Honda’s participation in the program because of purported issues with sanitation, patient monitoring and record-keeping, among other problems.

The city’s suit, filed Wednesday, seeks to reverse the federal government’s plan to stop funding the hospital on Sept. 13—a deadline it calls “arbitrary”—and argues that there is nowhere for Laguna Honda’s 610 patients to go.

At a press conference Thursday morning, Mayor London Breed drew comparisons between the lives lost at Laguna Honda during the Covid pandemic and the lives lost these past few weeks due to transfer trauma.

Mayor London Breed speaks about the Laguna Honda situation and city lawsuit on Aug. 4, 2022 at San Francisco City Hall. | Mike Kuba/The Standard

“This is a matter of life or death,” Breed said.

During the entire Covid pandemic, Laguna Honda cites six deaths due to Covid. Nine patients have died following transfers out of the facility in the past two months.

“Because of its commitment to serve the underserved, Laguna Honda often provides a last resort for patients who have nowhere else to go, and serves a critical need for San Francisco,” the lawsuit reads, saying that there are insufficient skilled nursing beds and facilities in the Bay Area and even nearby states to take in Laguna’s patients.

The suit also claims that Laguna Honda’s Medicare and Medicaid agreements should never have been terminated in the first place.

Renne Public Law Groups, run by former City Attorney Louise Renne, filed a class-action suit against both the state and federal government on behalf of Laguna Honda patients and families.

Last week, following the deaths of several Laguna Honda residents who had been sent elsewhere, the hospital temporarily stopped transferring patients, with permission from federal regulators.

Prior to the pause on transfers, Laguna Honda said it had moved 41 vulnerable patients to other skilled nursing facilities and 16 had been discharged to the community.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services said in an emailed statement that it does not comment on matters in litigation.